My laundry room usually looks like the bargain bin at Ross Dress-For-Less. There are always huge mounds of dirty clothes all over the floor, but recently it got so bad that there was just a narrow trail through the middle of the room. I decided it was time for a clean start; I was going to wash everything… And I mean everything. I had the kids strip their beds of all sheets and blankets, collect all the towels, gather everything in their closets that wasn’t hanging, dug clothes out of hampers, un-rolled sleeping bags, rescued stray socks from between the sofa cushions, I literally got EVERYTHING in the entire house that could possibly be washed and dumped it all on the floor of the laundry room. I spent over an hour sorting the mass of fabric by color, and then ambitiously filled my washing machine with the first load of whites. After pouring a cap full of Tide into the detergent drawer thingy, I hit the start button.
Rather than the customary single beep, followed by the sound of water filling the machine, I heard six beeps and no water. I pushed the pause/cancel button, double checked to make sure that the door was properly closed, then tried to re-start the machine. Again, I got the six beeps and nothing else. Another four or five failed attempts to start the machine led me to try unplugging it in the hope that the controls would somehow reset themselves. Needless to say, that didn’t work either. I was left with no other option than to consult the troubleshooting guide in the Owner’s Manual to find out what the six beeps meant. I knew what the beeps indicated even before I found the problem in the booklet; the machine was telling me, “you’re fucked and you’re getting ready to spend an assload of money to get me fixed!” As I feared, the Owner’s Manual said that six beeps was an indication of “control panel failure.”
So there I was, looking at a scale replica of the Himalayan mountain range made of dirty laundry and I had a broken washing machine. As much as I hated to admit it, I was left with no other option... I was headed for a place that I hadn’t been to since my college days; and I’m not talking about the Oui Lounge. I was headed to the washateria.
I was already beaten-down by the whole broken washer episode, and needless to say, I was less-than-excited about having to leave the house to do the friggin wash. In anticipation of another beating, I took some preventative measures to keep the trip to the laundromat from completely whipping my ass. I used more than a dozen garbage bags to sack each load separately. I thought individual sacks would make it easier to get the stuff in and out of the wash once I got there. Then, before I left the house, I made sure that I had a full bottle of detergent, dry bleach, fabric softener, even a bottle of Shout to pre-treat dirty baseball pants and whatnot. I even stopped at the bank on the way there and bought two rolls of quarters, just in case there was not a change machine available. I tried to cover all my bases and made sure that I had all the provisions necessary to get the job done correctly and in the most expedient manner possible. After all my preparation and organization, I began to think that the whole washateria trip might not be that bad after all…
The band of Mexicans drinking beer and listening to mariachi music in the parking lot led me to believe that my original assessment of the situation was probably more accurate.
As I carried the first load of plastic bags through the handprint smeared glass of the front door, I was struck by the intense heat and humidity of the place. It was stifling. I broke a sweat within the first ten seconds that I was inside. No wonder the Mexicans were sitting out front drinking beer; they were probably dehydrated from sorting clothes in the sweltering heat. Despite the oppressive conditions, the laundromat was crowded with people. Through the suffocating stillness of the torrid air, I located a row of washing machines whose lids were in the open position and began to stake my claim. It took me several trips to get it all inside, but I set each bag of laundry on top of an un-occupied washing machine. By the time I was done, I damn near monopolized the entire back row. After I pumped each of the 17 machines full of clothes, soap and quarters, I was free to really soak in the ambiance of the place.
The interior of the laundromat was painted a light, depressing and faded out pea green color that reminded me both of Gerber baby food in a jar and Gerber baby food in a diaper. The wall adjacent to the dollar bill changer was plastered with home-made advertisements (some in English, some en Espanol) for in-home day care, small engine repair, income tax preparation and God only knows what else. The concrete floor was unfinished, yet almost shiny thanks to years of dirt build-up from foot traffic and condensation caused by the ever-present moisture in the air. It looked like it would be slick, but it was actually kind of sticky and you could hear rubber-soled shoes squeak as people walked to and from. Several metal laundry hampers on wheels that were similar to grocery carts were positioned randomly throughout the area. There were paper signs sporadically taped on machines throughout the room indicating that they were out of order and trash littered the ground. Empty detergent containers, discarded wire clothes hangers, broken plastic laundry baskets and forgotten articles of clothing were haphazardly strewn all over the place. Newspaper circulars blew across the dull cement floor like tumbleweeds through the Old West prairie each time that the doors were opened. A row of fiberglass benches were bolted to the floor around the perimeter of the room against the dingy storefront glass. As I sat down on the bench nearest to my row of washing machines, I quickly realized that I was the only patron of Anglo-Saxon heritage.
In addition to the truckload of drunken day laborers in the parking lot, there were about a dozen Hispanic women feverishly folding basket-upon-basket of clothing atop a row of plastic tables located in front of the dryers. They worked with the efficiency of an assembly line and the coordination of a domestic drill team; shaking, smoothing, folding and stacking, all in perfect rhythm. They were like the Kilgore Rangerettes of the washateria… Minus the hairspray… And the fancy costumes… And the weight restrictions… And the ability to speak English…
Apparently, the Rangerettes had not seen the ads for day care and baby sitters because they brought their children with them. There were probably a dozen kids running loose inside the laundromat, ranging in age from infants to 12-year olds. Most of them were either seated on the benches minding their own business or were assisting the Rangerettes as apprentice folders. However, there was one group of kids who were there for one reason and one reason only; jackassery. Five of them commandeered a pair of laundry carts and were pretending they were running in the Spray-N-Wash 500 Demolition Derby at the Texas Motor Speedway. It was a battle of the sexes, as the three boys in the rusty cart with the bad wheel were engaged in a race for pink slips against the two girls in the white cart with the missing hanging bar. With absolutely no parental supervision whatsoever, the grudge match between Pinky and Leather Tuscadero vs. The Malachi Brothers roared up and down the isles of the washateria. The boys had the size and straight-away speed advantage, but were equally matched by the maneuverability and rapid acceleration of the girls. After no less than 50 action-packed laps on the twisting and turning road course, the contest was finally settled in dramatic fashion. Coming out of turn number 3 on the final lap, the two carts were bumping and trading paint before the boys executed the infamous “Malachi Crunch” pit maneuver and rammed the girls into a trash can. The girls survived the crash since one was seated in the cart while the other pushed, but the boys weren’t quite as lucky. The high center of gravity created by the dual-cockpit configuration (one seated, the one standing in the basket while the third pushed) caused the boys cart to flip end-over-end. The cascade of ESL students and laundromat refuse brought the race to its conclusion, as both teams of racers left the track and ran out the front door laughing in Spanish.
After transferring all 17 loads of laundry from the row of washing machines to the wall of dryers, I found that my seat in the corner of the room had been hi-jacked by a rather stylishly dressed, white business man in his mid fifties. The man’s impressive beer belly was accentuated by both a shoulder-length mullet and an elegant wife-beater t-shirt that showcased his over-abundance of back hair and faded prison tattoos. His dapper ensemble was rounded out by a timeless pair of cut-off blue jean shorts, white over-the-calf tube socks and a trendy pair of black, generic, Velcro-strapped tennis shoes. The wardrobe really gave it away, but I could tell that he was an important business man and was obviously conducting some important business because he was wearing a Bluetooth ear-piece and was steadily poking away at the keys of a laptop computer. Since I didn’t want to interrupt this Captain of Industry while he worked, I found seat at the other end of the bench. I spent the next 20 minutes or so imagining what kind of top secret, high finance deal that he must have been working on. Maybe he was controlling a hedge fund, orchestrating a corporate merger, going over quarterly profit and loss statements, or maybe he was just a douchebag playing on-line poker and surfing the internet for barely legal teen porn. Either way, I didn’t want to interrupt…
Soon enough, the dryers stopped spinning, my clothes were dry and I was free to get the hell out of there. I loaded everything back into my truck and retreated to the relative peace and quiet of my house full of teenage kids. After spending the entire afternoon and most of the evening folding and putting away all the clothes, bed linens and assorted other textiles, I came to a conclusion. I realized that my broken washer would be in the repair shop for a while and that I’d end up having to do another power-wash in the interim. Rather than make another trip to the God-forsaken laundromat, I’d put my collegiate education and experience to good use. Just as I did in college, next time I’d just take my bags of dirty laundry to my mother and get her to do them for me.